Well, it’s February. Are you still on your New Year’s “diet or cleanse”? Boy, I hope not, in fact I hope you never started! Like the majority of people, whatever well-intentioned resolutions you had on January 1st have probably not lasted. And that’s okay. While goal-setting is a great opportunity to improve your health, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and think about what is truly realistic for you as a long term change, not just a diet. Studies have shown that most individuals who lose weight will gain it back (95%), particularly when engaging in “yo-yo dieting”, aka going on and off of extreme diet plans (are you listening Keto?). Making change sustainable, especially when it comes to eating and lifestyle, IS harder than dieting. But it’s the only answer and not impossible. So welcome to February, it might not be an exciting new month full of huge goals and motivation, but it is a perfect time to start your realistic journey to improving your health.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
This isn’t just eating advice. Making changes in your life can often require a lot of planning and upheaval, which is exhausting and stressful, thus making you more likely to quit. We want to offer you an alternative: take a step at a time. It takes 21 to 28 days to form a habit. Choose a starting point, and focus on integrating ONLY that ONE change into your life for a few weeks before adding another one. Making something part of your routine means working out the kinks of how to integrate it into your life, so by the time it becomes habit, it won’t be as much of a struggle and you can focus on your next small change.
So what are the rules?
“Rules” can be a challenging term, that comes with feelings of guilt and restriction. While some people might like the structure of rules, they can be hard to stick to, and are likely to make you feel like a failure if you can’t adhere to them. So let’s think of these as adjustments or steps that you can take to improve your health. Choose one that’s easy to start with for you.
Increase Your Fibre Intake
Yes, increase. One of the best things you can do to encourage NOT storing extra weight is to give your gut the fibre it wants and needs to reduce fat cell size. Also, most high fibre foods have the side benefit of being higher in vitamins and minerals, and they keep you full longer. The most common reason for failing a diet is hunger. Here are a few ways to increase your fibre:
- Add a high fibre cereal to your breakfast, like Bran Buds, even mixing it in with your other cereal or granola.
- Add whole fruit as snacks throughout the day.
- Choose whole grain bread and pasta.
- Add flax or chia seeds to your smoothies, breakfast, salads, etc.
- Try to make half of your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner.
Add Extra Vegetables
You cannot eat enough vegetables! Vegetables are high in fibre, which make them an excellent and filling focus of your meals and snacks. With all of the vitamin, minerals, and water they contain, in addition to phytochemicals and antioxidants, they protect the body in many ways. Filling your plate with more veggies means less room for excess protein and processed foods, and can also mean learning some new favourite dishes. Here are some easy ways to incorporate more vegetables in your life:
- Keep a bag of frozen veggies in the freezer to quickly add into a meal when you don’t have fresh. They’re just as healthy!
- Add an extra handful of veggies into your stir-fry, pasta, curry, etc.
- Have some veggies at breakfast in an omelette or on toast or heck, tofu soup!
- Try snacking on carrots and hummus, celery and peanut butter, etc.
- Add a cup of spinach or other greens to your smoothies.
- Prepare chop salads at the start of the week for easy lunch add-ons and get creative with ingredients.
- When you go out, opt for soups with vegetables, ask for a side of sauteed veg, or add them to your sandwich or wrap.
Plan and/or make your meals in Advance
This can be a tough one but it is absolutely essential to improving eating habits, and can save you a lot of money and time later too. Take half an hour to plan what meals you and your family will eat that week, what ingredients you will need to buy, and how much time you will need to prepare them. Have a snack or meal before you hit the grocery store and make sure you have your list with you! Gather your groceries and try to do as much of the peeling, cutting, portioning, etc as soon as you get home. DO NOT WAIT to prep the next day; ALWAYS prep right after the grocery store. The more available healthy, homemade food is, the more likely you are to eat it.
Acknowledge emotional eating- its common
Emotional eating is a big sticking point for a lot of people. We get a lot of joy out of food beyond just its nutritional or social value. Learning if and when you are reaching for food first when you are upset is essential in improving your relationship with food and your body. When you’re feeling that urge, if you can, take a breath, and acknowledge this. It’s okay. Then aim to delay having that food if you can for at least 17 minutes…first go for a walk or do something active. That physical activity can often act to make us feel better in the first place, but also means that we have to stop and think about what our body is asking for. Sometimes you will have the food you are craving, but as you become more aware, sometimes you may choose a healthier option. That’s why it’s crucial to have these at the ready.
Drink more water and less soda AND juice.
I am completely anti-pop. Some people will disagree with this, but I think it’s garbage. Do everything you can to not drink it, and if you do, minimize it as much as possible. The effects on mental health, body fat and digestion are brutal as we learn more and more about this toxic liquid. You’ve probably heard don’t drink your calories before, and for good reason. Liquid calories don’t register the same way as food, so they won’t leave you filling as full or satisfied as if you ate the same amount of calories. If you’re thirsty, always have water first to satisfy that craving. Feel free to add some citrus for flavor. And for those of you reaching for the juice- don’t. It often has just as much sugar as soda! Without the fibre of real fruit to slow down all of that sugar, you’re asking for rollercoaster blood sugar. Stick to water as much as possible.
When we say cut out soda, we are not asking you to cut out caffeine! This is a really unnecessary restriction that a lot of people put on themselves when they’re trying to lose weight. If tea and coffee are part of your life, you can definitely still have your morning cup! Just avoid the sugar-heavy lattes and sweetened beverages.
Reduce intake of processed foods
The good news is, if you’ve already added some of the habits from above, then you probably are already consuming less processed foods. Having a plan, packing lunches ahead, and having more fibre and veggies in your life generally means less processed. So let’s look for the areas of your life where those creep in. Is it a big part of your work lunches? Do you buy a lot of processed snacks? Are they a regularly part of the evening rush with the family? Find an area where they are common and try to imagine what could help with avoiding them. For instance:
- Try cooking or baking some of your favourites with the family. This is a great activity to do together, and you can feel confident that whatever you make at home is healthier than the store-bought version. Remember, cooking together IS quality family time…and you are teaching valuable LIFE SKILLS to your kids!
- If going out for lunch is a regular office habit, decide ahead of time what you will be ordering that is as fresh and unprocessed as possible. If options are limited, aim to have a mini-lunch or larger snack beforehand at work.
- Keep healthy, unprocessed snacks ready to go while you’re running the kids (or yourself) around in the evening. Sliced veggies, cottage cheese, nuts (trail-mix), fruit, yogurt, etc., so that they’re ready on the go.
Make time to eat with other people
Eating with others can drastically improve your physical and social health. This is because when we eat alone, we tend to be less engaged with what we are doing, particularly when we’re at work, watching TV or using our phones. Eating with others slows things down, encourages talking, and makes it a positive, social experience. Family meals in particular have numerous health benefits for everyone involved, particularly kids, so try to schedule them in as much as possible. Even when your kids are sullen teens, eating together as a family has been shown to be protective against high-risk behaviours in children and youth. It’s worth making the effort in so many ways.
No Screens When You Eat
When you are alone, you also need to put away the screens. Eating mindlessly often means that we are not listening to our bodies telling us when they are hungry or full, and that is much easier to do when we’re being distracted by something else. It also increases associations of screen-time with food. Do you find yourself craving a snack when the TV is on even if you aren’t hungry? When you’re going to eat, put everything away, and pay attention to what you’re eating. Put some music on, sit by a window, savour the tastes. Notice how the food makes you feel, and listen to your body’s cues. This can be challenging at first, but as you continue to eat mindfully, you will get more in touch with what your body is really asking for.
Get More Sleep
Sleep is the new black. A good night’s sleep is important for everything– including weight loss. It helps your body to get the rest it needs to function better, improves your energy, and keeps you feeling happier, and thus less likely to make food choices because of stress or emotion. Aim for seven to nine hours nightly. (Sorry new parents, this will happen again someday I promise!) Make sleep times as consistent as possible. Read for an hour before bed, try an herbal tea, and avoid large, heavy meals 3 hours before sleep.
Opt for Leaner Meats, Fish or Plant-Based Proteins Whenever Possible
For some people, this can seem like the challenging part, especially if you’re used to very meat-based meals. Luckily for you, there are lots of easy steps you can take to reduce your consumption of meat, particularly red meat. You don’t have to cut anything out all together, but opting for these leaner foods most of the time can go a long way in improving your help. And bonus- plant-based substitutes can be a lot easier on the wallet! Here’s a few tricks:
- When using ground meat, switch out half for lentils. They have a similar texture, have tons of vitamins, fibre, and iron, and are much lower in saturated fats.
- Add beans to soups, chilis, stews, salads, etc for a big dose of protein and to help keep you fuller!
- Choose chicken over beef for pastas and stir-frys. You can also experiment with tofu or tempeh, which are very versatile and take on the flavour of what you’re cooking.
- Aim to have fish twice a week as they are full of healthy omega fats and contain lots of protein.
- Nuts are a great high-energy, high-protein snack during the day!
Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
This is always at the top of diet lists, but it can be pretty hard to follow until your food choices are adjusted to keep you getting what you need to feel full. If you’re trying to cut portion sizes but your meal is lacking fibre, protein, or fat, then you’re likely still going to be hungry. Keeping your portion sizes reasonable is also a matter of listening to your body and what it needs- you might be more hungry after being physically active but not necessarily need a ton more food. So don’t think of this as strict, but here are some general guidelines about portions:
- A piece of protein should generally be the same size as the palm of your hand.
- Vegetable serving sizes are about ½ cup each, but don’t feel the need to restrict that too much. Try to make sure that half of your plate is from vegetables.
- Grains such as pasta and rice have a serving size of ½ cup. 1 slice of bread, ½ a bagel or a small tortilla is also a serving. Try to go for the whole grain version of these to maximize the fibre and nutrition.
- When you are eating sweets, take a small piece or serving, put away the rest. Eat it with your meal, without screen distractions, and enjoy it! You don’t need to cut things out that you really enjoy, just be mindful of how you’re eating them and give yourself space to actually ENJOY!
A Closing Note
Rome wasn’t built in a day and these changes will not happen overnight, at least not if you want them to become a regular part of your life. Give each one of these the time it deserves, to become a habit in your life. If you can make small, incremental, but lasting changes, you could feel more energy, less cravings, better digestion, improved sexual energy and better moods. And that’s just while you are on this journey to losing fat….pretty nice perks eh?